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Senator Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on “Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Status of Talks and the Role of Congress”

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing titled “Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Status of Talks and the Role of Congress.”

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the status of negotiations.

“I share your concern that the Iranians are playing for time. Over the past 18 months, we have been moving closer to their positions on all key elements – on the Arak reactor, on Fordow, on enrichment, and on Iran’s disclosure of the military dimensions of its nuclear program.

“I think we need to review how we got to this point. Iran deceived the international community and violated UN Security Council resolutions to arrive within weeks of achieving nuclear break-out capacity. Iran came to the table only after the cumulative impact of years of sanctions began to affect the regime’s economic and political stability. For us to give up the leverage of sanctions - which would take years to re-impose – we need a deal that truly reverses their nuclear program, rather than just buying a little time.

“This is why I’m concerned about more than break-out time. I’m concerned that the agreement won’t provide a clear picture of the military dimensions of Iran’s program – so that we know just how close Iran is to being able to make a nuclear weapon and I’m concerned that – instead of dismantling and closing Arak and Fordow – the Arak reactor will be converted, and Fordow - a facility built under a mountain – will be re-purposed.

“After 18 months of stalling, Iran needs to know that there will be consequences for failure – and that consequence will be additional sanctions. While we are playing nice, Iran is playing an asymmetrical game – violating the spirit and intent of sanctions.

“In November, Iran violated the interim agreement by feeding uranium gas into its IR-5 centrifuge at the Natanz research facility.  The issue of whether this was a violation of the interim agreement is only an issue because – at the time of the interim agreement – the IR-5 had not been used for enrichment and hence the agreement only prohibited Iran from making advances on the IR-6. That is “spin” if I’ve ever heard it. But, in any case, the action clearly violated the intent of the agreement to halt enrichment advances at Natanz –and it violated IAEA and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“In December, the UN Panel of Experts that monitors sanctions compliance said in a report that Iran has been illicitly trying to buy technology for the Arak research reactor, which – as originally designed –would produce plutonium for a bomb and has been referred to by experts as a bomb making factory because of the quantity of plutonium output. Under the interim agreement, Iran agreed to make no further advances in the construction at Arak.  Iran's position is that any purchases alone would not contravene the agreement, only new construction.  If you believe that I have a reactor to sell you.

“And – just last week – Iranian President Rouhani announced that construction had begun on two new nuclear reactors at Bushehr. While not a technical violation of the JPOA – the announcement is clearly intended to leverage further gains in the negotiations.  And the very next day the Iranian regime announced that Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been imprisoned for 178 days, had been referred to the Revolutionary Court that handles sensitive national security cases.

“As the Washington Post said in a recent editorial, “It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr. Rezaian is being used as a human pawn in the regime’s attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations.”

“Iran is clearly taking steps that can only be interpreted as provocative. Yet the Administration appears willing to excuse-away any connection between these developments and signs of Iran’s bad faith in negotiations.

“It seems that we’re allowing Iran to shuffle the deck and deal the cards in this negotiation and that we’re playing dealer’s choice. Frankly, that’s not good enough. We need to get into the game.

“Up until now, Iran has not been motivated to make tough decisions. I hope that there will be an agreement in March, but I also believe we need to make clear that there are consequences to no-deal – and that means being prepared to act.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”